The truth about children and sleep
Parents are often made to feel guilty and ashamed of the way their children sleep (or don’t). But the truth is:
- There are a variety of ways that adults, children and babies can sleep.
- Sleeping practices are cultural.
- We each have our own individual sleeping preferences, needs and patterns (e.g. children vary in how much sleep they need).
- Getting to sleep and staying asleep is more difficult for some children than for others. For example, some children (and adults) just plain find it harder to go to sleep, some have vivid dreams and nightmares and some have lighter sleep.
So we can’t expect every child to be sleeping in the same way at any given age. We also shouldn’t expect there to be only one right way for children to sleep that would suit all families. So here’s what really matters:
- Your child is getting enough sleep. Enough sleep is enough for them. Remember your child may need more or less sleep than average. Your child is getting enough sleep if they have enough energy to play, learn, grow and develop. Note that, unfortunately for you, this does not necessarily mean that they will sleep long enough for you to complete your naptime to do list or that they will fall asleep early enough for you to watch that movie you are dying to see!
- Your baby is sleeping safely. Note that there are guidelines for safe sleeping in a separate cot and in the parent’s bed.
- You are meeting your child’s needs for comfort and connection.
- You are parenting in line with your personal parenting values. Your family sleeping practices should feel right to you.
- You have discovered the best ways to meet your needs, given your personal parenting values, the way your unique child sleeps and what works in your family.
There are a whole variety of ways that sleep may happen in different families and many ways that this may change over time as children grow and develop. Children may:
- go to bed early or late
- fall asleep by themselves or with a parent
- wake early or sleep in
- catnap or have long naps during the day
- bed share with parents or sleep in the same room or sleep in a different room or spend part of the night in their own bed and part in their parents’ bed
- transition to their own bed as a baby or as a toddler or as an older child
- return to their parents’ bed months or years after starting to sleep in their own bed
- wake for night-time breastfeeds for years or night-wean early
- wake for comfort during the night or sleep through from an early age
- have a daytime nap until they start school or quit napping in early toddlerhood
Further, for any one of the multitude of the above sleeping scenarios there is a family out there doing it and loving it. So, let go of the guilt, reconnect with your parenting values, brainstorm your options and find what works for your child and family.
Apply it to your life: How does your family sleep? Does it fit with your parenting values?
For more information on safe sleeping: SIDS and Kids Safe Sleeping Guidelines
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